The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 6, 2020
On this second Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves in week two of four in what is the closest thing to a “sermon series” that you’ll get at St. Mary’s. We are looking at the Four Last Things of Advent. We began with death last week, judgement this week, and then heaven and hell.
Specifically, the final judgment that we say we believe in when we say the Nicene Creed, “and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the [living] and the dead.”
We are given a vivid picture of this final judgment the old Latin hymn Dies Irae, arguably the most important hymn ever written in the West. This 13th century hymn was originally composed for the season of Advent, but ultimately became associated with funerals. It begins heavy and somber: “Day of wrath, O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophet’s warning, heaven and earth in ashes burning.” This is what the Day of Judgment will be like, when God’s wrath will be poured out upon all injustice and unrepented sin. As crazy as it sounds, the Church teaches us that the bodies of the dead will rise from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet, and they, along with all of creation, will answer to Jesus, the Judge and Lord of all. On this terrible day, we will all be judged according to our deeds. When we face our Lord and Judge, we will be exposed before he whom this hymn calls “the King of tremendous majesty.” We won’t be able to hide our sinfulness, or our past, or our fears – all will be laid bare.
Back in my Southern Baptist days, we talked and thought a lot about heaven and hell and things eternal, and the fear that the Day of Judgment evoked in me led to lots of guilt and shame. I lived in that guilt-laden world for far too many years. So hear me when I say that the Church’s call for us to reflect on the Day of Judgment isn’t a call to wallow about in fear and guilt.
It is a call to prepare. Despite the Christmas lights and consumerism going on in the world around us, the Church calls us to keep awake and prepare for the coming of Christ in the manager at Christmas, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, and at the last day.
It’s a call to judge ourselves, lest we be judged by the Lord. It’s a call to examine our lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments and acknowledge our sins before Almighty God with full purpose of amendment of life. It’s a call to heed the words of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight in our hearts, and turn from the selfish and sinful devices and desires of our own hearts. Advent is a call to wake up from our spiritual haziness and fatigue and prepare the way for our Savior.
But beware of the risk of thinking that Advent means that we are called to clean ourselves up, or somehow by our own strength work our way to God. For judgment – whether it be our own self-judgment of our lives, or God’s judging of us at the last day – judgment leads to mercy. For the God who mercifully redeems us is the same God who judges us. And he uses the same means to both judge and save us: his unconditional love. God’s love has both effects – first judgment, then mercy. Advent isn’t about us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and being good enough to deserve God’s love, it’s about putting ourselves in a position – by prayer, fasting and repentance – by watching and waiting – to receive the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Austin Farrer (Fare-er), a priest of the Church of England who died in the 1960’s and, ironically, came from the Baptist tradition, tells us how love leads to both judgment and mercy in his book “The Crown of the Year”. He says,
"Advent brings Christmas, judgement runs out into mercy. For the God who saves us and the God who judges us is one God. We are not, even, condemned by his severity and redeemed by his compassion; what judges us is what redeems us, the love of God. What is it that will break our hearts on judgment day? Is it not the vision, suddenly unrolled, of how he has loved the friends we have neglected, of how he has loved us, and how we have not loved him in return; how, when we came before his altar, he gave us himself, and we gave him half-penitences, or resolutions too weak to commit our wills? But while love thus judges us by being what it is, the same love redeems us by effecting what it does. Love shares flesh and blood with us in this present world, that the eyes which look us through at last may find in us a better substance than our vanity.
"Advent is a coming, not our coming to God, but his to us. We cannot come to God, he is beyond our reach; but he can come to us, for we are not beneath his mercy. Even in another life, as St. John sees it in his vision, we do not rise to God, but he descends to us, and dwells humanly among human creatures in the glorious man Jesus Christ. And that will be his last coming; so we shall be his people, and he everlastingly our God, our God-with-us, our Emmanuel. He will so come, but he is come already, he comes always: in our fellow Christian, in his Word, invisibly in our souls, more visibly in this sacrament. Opening ourselves to him, we call him in: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord: O come, Emmanuel."
 BCP 328.
 Pope, "Sing the Dies Irae at My Funeral - A Meditation on a Lost Treasure," Community in Mission, June 10, 2015, accessed December 4, 2020 http://blog.adw.org/2011/11/sing-the-dies-irae-at-my-funeral-a-meditation-on-a-lost-treasure/.
 Christopher Webber, Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2002), 2-3.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!